After scoring just nine goals in a one-goal win against Delaware in last Saturday’s season opener, top-ranked Loyola returned to last season’s form – that same form that brought the university its first Division I national championship – in Wednesday night’s 14-9 victory over host Towson.
Four of those 14 goals came from the team’s man-up unit, which was awarded five opportunities against the Tigers. It was a welcome departure from the 9-8 decision against the Blue Hens when the Greyhounds failed to score on two extra-man chances.
Senior attackman Mike Sawyer said converting man-up situations was an area the squad concentrated on in practice.
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“We noticed last week that we weren’t very good,” he said. “Mentally, we knew we needed to clean it up this week, and we did.”
Last year, Loyola ranked eighth in Division I in scoring with a 12.1-goal average, and the extra-man offense finished ninth in the country with a 44.4 percent conversion rate (24 of 54). Wednesday night’s display may be a sign that the team has rediscovered its prowess on man-up opportunities.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Towson’s man-down unit has been too generous to opponents thus far. Opponents have scored eight goals in 11 extra-man chances (72.7 percent), and coach Shawn Nadelen said the Tigers will review the unit prior to Sunday’s home game against Mercer.
“We’re struggling to really make plays in the man down – whether they’re knockdowns or being a half of a second [late] in our rotations,” he said. “I just remember vividly a couple times where guys just had that hesitation, and that’s all you need in a man up to get a skip pass through or get yourself just that little bit of an angle for a shot. We have to play more aggressively, but also more ahead of the action. We’ve got to continue to work hard at that, and we’ll evaluate our personnel in there and we’ll evaluate what we’re doing. There’s no doubt we have to lock down our man down a lot better.”
*The Greyhounds benefitted from the play of sophomore Blake Burkhart. The Rutgers transfer took all 28 faceoffs Wednesday night, winning 16 and leading the team in ground balls with eight. Burkhart did not play in the win against Delaware when Loyola had won just 7 of 21 draws. “Blake definitely gave us energy at the X, him winning some faceoffs because we didn’t have the ball a lot at Delaware.,” coach Charley Toomey said. “So to be able to start with the ball was a new concept. We were appreciative of his effort.”
*The Greyhounds made improvements across the board, but one area that irked Toomey was turnovers. After committing 13 turnovers against the Blue Hens, the team coughed up the ball 18 times to Towson, which turned the ball over just 11 times. “We have to look at that one,” Toomey said. “We have to understand that as a team, we want to continue to get those shots and when you play fast, you’re going to get shots. But the one thing that we didn’t do last year and that we have to get better at this year is, we didn’t turn the ball over playing as fast as we did. So we’re going to go back to work on that right now.”
*The Tigers are 0-3 for the second time in four years, but have never opened a season with four consecutive losses. Mercer (1-1) will visit Johnny Unitas Stadium Sunday, but sophomore midfielder Greg Cuccinello said there’s no sense of desperation among the players to snap the losing skid. “I think a big learning experience for us last year was being in a hole early and we came back and won five straight,” he said. “I think we believe in each other and at any time, we can rattle off six or seven games in a row. We have a tough schedule, and there’s never an easy game in Division I lacrosse any more. But if we keep watching film, shooting extra reps, and working hard like we are in practice, there’s no reason why we can’t string a couple wins together.”